Growing up, my mother drilled empathy and the ability to put myself in other’s shoes into my head. She also taught me to question myself. Some of her best advice to me was the following:
“Whenever something upsets you or insults you, don’t react before thinking about why.”
This means taking a second of self-reflection and figuring out why you think the way you do. Are you upset or offended because you should be? Are your preconceived notions or deeply held opinions the reason why you’re perturbed? If so, are your preconceived notions or deeply held opinions correct?
Now, this process isn’t for every situation. There are times when you should follow your gut instinct. For instance, if you are getting red flags in a relationship and your gut is telling you to run, it’s probably right. However, if you’re having a discussion with someone and they say or do something that upsets you, take a second.
As someone who is introverted and far too eager to make sure people like me, I often read into situations things that are not there.
“She didn’t respond right away, I must have upset her!”
“He’s being really stand-offish today…I wonder what I did wrong…”
Those are just a couple of examples, but you get the point. Sometimes I get so caught up in my own head that I project my underlying insecurities on others when in reality they aren’t even thinking about me at all. Or if they are, they aren’t thinking what I assume they are.
This exercise works not only with day to day social issues, but it also works with political issues, as well. For instance, if I hear or read something that is against a group that I identify with and upsets me, generally if I stop for a second and think about it I will realize that it doesn’t apply to me specifically. There was a time when hearing the term, “White people” followed by something negative upset me. It wasn’t until I realized that even though I am a white person, what they are talking about doesn’t apply to me personally. Once I realized that I stopped getting upset.
Other times I might hear or read something that is against my own personal beliefs, and my first reaction is to write off the author, but — again — if I stop for a second and think, sometimes I’ll realize there is merit to their opinion and I might even learn something new. I was highly indoctrinated into religion as a teenager and this caused me to be very closed-minded and judgmental. It wasn’t until I entered the real world that I realized that a lot of what I believed was incorrect and that everyone’s story is important and meaningful. Now when I hear something negative about a belief of mine I try to see the point of view from the speaker.
Of course, this isn’t always the case; I sometimes will discover even more evidence for my opinion when I research an issue to ensure said opinion is correct.
It’s human nature to bristle when someone or something challenges your beliefs or opinions. We spend so much time cultivating our ideas and beliefs and opinions that we think we’ve really got it all figured out. So when we discover that someone else doesn’t agree it can be felt as an insult. When we’re insulted our first instinct is to fight back, instead of taking a second for some introspection or to truly consider the other person’s point of view.
Everyone’s experience is different, and since our experiences are what cultivate our beliefs and opinions, it’s only logical that everyone’s beliefs and opinions will be different. You’re not going to agree with everyone you meet, so it is important to try to see things from their point of view.
Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and view things from outside your bubble.
Sometimes, you have to question yourself.